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Busy agenda for final city meeting of 2013

By: Darren MacDonald - Sudbury Northern Life

 | Dec 10, 2013 - 4:00 PM |
Despite opening almost three weeks later than in 2012, and having four fewer weekends to sell, many vendors reported improved sales in 2013, particularly on Saturdays, when many sold all their merchandise. This was the market's first year in its new location at the former CP Rail Station, after the city sold the former site to Laurentian University for use for the School of Architecture. File photo.

Despite opening almost three weeks later than in 2012, and having four fewer weekends to sell, many vendors reported improved sales in 2013, particularly on Saturdays, when many sold all their merchandise. This was the market's first year in its new location at the former CP Rail Station, after the city sold the former site to Laurentian University for use for the School of Architecture. File photo.

Budget, development charges and a report on Market Square

The final city meeting of 2013 goes tonight, when councillors are expected to pass budget hikes for next year, and debate a report on Market Square's first year at its new location.

Despite opening almost three weeks later than in 2012, and having four fewer weekends to sell, many vendors reported improved sales, particularly on Saturdays, when many sold all their merchandise. This was the market's first year in its new location at the former CP Rail Station, after the city sold the former site to Laurentian University for use for the School of Architecture.

Renovations weren't complete in time for the 2013 season, which meant vendors set up outside the station in stalls covered by canopies. A staff report found that vendors whose stalls faced the road enjoyed stronger sales than everyone else.

In total, Saturday sales increased 7.3 per cent, with average traffic reaching 591, compared to 551 in 2012. Sunday traffic, however, dropped to an average of 180 visitors, compared to 228 last year, when the market operated at its former location further up on Elgin Street.

A total of 38 vendors paid rent at the Market this year, with 14 of them renting for the full season. The facility can accommodate 26 vendors at any one time each season, which ran until Oct. 27.

A survey of 24 vendors found that half saw sales increase or stay the same compared to 2013, five reported a drop in sales, while seven were first-time vendors.

“Veteran vendors noted that the new market has generated a new consumer demographic, specifically attracting more youth and young families,” says a staff report on the Market's first year at its new location. “In addition to their improved traffic numbers year-over-year, several return vendors noted better sales in 2013 as compared to those of the former Market Square site.

“Based on this information, nearly half of the vendors interviewed were committed to returning in 2014 before the end of the 2013 season.”

More than half of the vendors had average daily sales of at least $500; 13 per cent had sales between $1,000 and $2,499, while eight per cent had sales of between $2,500 and $5,000 on an average day. To increase traffic, city staff organized entertainment and other activities on 30 days of the 38-day season.

Other highlights of the report:

While the outdoors stalls were popular with consumers, they were much more vulnerable to the weather, with a big drop in customers whenever it rained. Vendors weren't happy having to sell in the rain, either.

The most popular item at the Market was fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Half of the customers were regular visitors, with 40 per cent spending more than $30 each visit.

Many vendors sold out of produce by early Sunday, limiting customer selection.

Twelve vendors said increased protection from the weather was key, 11 said the entertainment events were a great way to draw in crowds, six suggested operating on Saturdays only, while five wanted to move the entire Market indoors.

Offering a bigger range of merchandise was also a priority for vendors, who suggested offering a special rental rate for first-time sellers.

There was a big drop in attendance after Thanksgiving, with the daily average dropping to about 100 visitors.

Budget increase

Councillors are expected to pass two rate increases tonight, one for the $502 million city budget, the second for water and wastewater rates.

The city budget increase is 2.9 per cent, but it took some last-minute number crunching to get it below three per cent. Lorella Hayes, the city's chief financial officer, was able to make the numbers work by tapping various reserve funds, and making some budget items – such as a new bus route to the Lionel Lalonde Centre in Azilda – one-time items, rather than permanent.

But, Hayes warned councillors, it's getting increasingly difficult to draw on reserve funds to make up for cuts in provincial grants, which were already $2.9 million lower than expected for 2014.

The hike in the water/wastewater budget is 4.6 per cent next year, or an average of about $48 per household. It will push average bill to $1,097 compared to 2013.

Half of the increase – 2.3 per cent – is to fund the $60-million biosolids plant currently under construction on Kelly Lake Road. Councillors agreed to add an extra one per cent to try and narrow the large gap between what they should spend maintaining and replacing infrastructure, and what they actually spend. Hayes told councillors last week that the city spends $33 million each year, when they should be spending $53 million.

That means the age of pipes underground will lead to bigger and more costly watermain breaks as the infrastructure crumbles.

They had three options – the bigger hike was 7.7 per cent — and chose the middle one. And as if on cue, the day after they approved the hike, there were two serious watermain breaks on The Kingsway, reducing traffic to one lane both ways for more than a day.

Development charge fees

Councillors will also be asked tonight to approve rates for development charges for next year. The charges are fees developers must pay the city when they build new homes or apartments.

The fees are intended to pay for the added infrastructure costs for the new homes, including water and sewer, road maintenance and bus service. For next year, the cost per home is $14,785, or $9,258 for multi-unit homes or apartments.

@darrenmacd
Darren MacDonald

Darren MacDonald

Staff Writer

@Darrenmacd

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